Many people, one dream of college access


Written by Muleskinner Staff

MLK and activist Illustration
Illustration by Anna McDonald / Illustrator

Features Editor
(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – UCM alumna Beth Tankersley-Bankhead spoke about the importance of college access for low-income and first generation students at the Martin Luther King Jr. Freedom Scholarship Dinner Tuesday, Jan. 16.
Tankersley-Bankhead, who is the director of postsecondary initiatives in education for the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation in Kansas City, Missouri, was a first generation college student. She said she learned the importance of a college education while attending UCM.
“Because of my coming here and having an education, I have had so many opportunities throughout my lifetime that I otherwise would not have had,” Tankersley-Bankhead said. “I’ve wondered many times ‘What would my life be like today –  where would I be, what would I be doing – had I not gone to college and had I not gone to college on this campus?’ But for too many of our youth, their dreams of college are not coming true and I believe that we cannot afford for anyone who wishes to go to college not to have that opportunity.”
Tankersley-Bankhead said only 10 percent of low-income students across the nation complete a college degree, yet half of the individuals from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by age 25. She said having college credentials leads to greater lifetime earnings, lower unemployment even during times of recession and lower poverty rates.
“Across this nation, too many young people think college is not possible,” Tankersley-Bankhead said. “Unfortunately they’ve been told this sometime throughout their lives. ‘You cannot do it.’ Don’t think about it. You cannot succeed.’ To me that is traumatic.”
Tankersley-Bankhead said hundreds of thousands of youth every year face barriers and cannot go to college and realize all of their dreams.
“This is what is happening across our nation. College matters. It is a vehicle to making dreams come true and for those who do not have access to college education, some of their possibilities are not being realized – their dreams may not be coming true,” she said.
Tankersley-Bankhead gave listeners some ideas about how to make a difference.
“What I’m going to call us to do tonight is not remember anything I said per se, but for each one of us to walk out of here and take an action so that we are sure college is possible – that we are many people working on one dream of college access.”
Tankersley-Bankhead advised listeners to mentor a young person, to spend time reflecting upon their college experiences, to be grateful, to support the Freedom Scholarship Dinner and to make a donation to other scholarships at UCM. Six UCM students received the Freedom Scholarship at the dinner. She said the scholarship could make the difference for a student of whether or not they can complete college.
“And then imagine what every one of the recipients will do with their life and how they’re going to make a difference and the great things they’ll do,” Tankersley-Bankhead said. “So I think the impact is huge and I think it’s so important for the community to be able to support this and come together and understand how scholarships make such a difference.”
Tankersley-Bankhead also advised listeners to find a Martin Luther King Jr. quote and use it as a daily guide.
“The words of Martin Luther King Jr. are timeless…They really are guides to daily life and how we interact with others,” Tankersley-Bankhead said. “And Dr. King shared his dream in 1963, and that dream and the words of that dream are absolutely relevant today and perhaps more so. Find strength in those words.”
Lastly, Tankersley-Bankhead said those in attendance should recognize what a vital part of the UCM community they are, and the responsibility they have for creating an open, caring and encouraging community. She said she was not asking the crowd to do anything she isn’t doing as well. She has sponsored a named scholarship through the Kansas City Scholars for a student in the Kansas City area to attend college at UCM.
“What will you do? What will you pledge to do? What action will you take to make sure that college is possible for many? How will you help the college dream come true?” Tankersley-Bankhead said. “Let’s make good on the theme ‘Many people, One dream’ by providing college opportunities, and we can do it by just one step, whether we do it tonight (or) tomorrow. And as Dr. King said, ‘You don’t have to see the whole staircase. Just take the first step.’”